Beijing: China on Tuesday warned US President Barack Obama against meeting the Dalai Lama, saying it would "seriously undermine" Sino-US ties -- the latest salvo in an escalating row between the two powers.
Beijing also said no progress was made in the latest round of talks between Chinese officials and envoys of the Buddhist monk, saying the two sides remain "sharply divided" on the future of the Himalayan region.
The comments came after the first negotiations between the two sides in more than a year, which wrapped up at the weekend. The envoys of the Dalai Lama returned to their exile base in India on Monday.
The exiled monk, whom China accuses of seeking independence for his homeland, is due in the United States this month for a visit that includes a stop in Washington, but a meeting with Obama has not been announced.
Such a meeting would "seriously undermine the political foundation of Sino-US relations," Zhu Weiqun, executive vice minister of the Communist Party body that handles contact with the Dalai Lama, told a news conference.
"If the US leader chooses to meet with the Dalai Lama at this time, it will certainly threaten trust and cooperation between China and the United States," Zhu said.
"We oppose any attempt by foreign forces to interfere in China`s internal affairs using the Dalai Lama as an excuse," he added.
The warning added to mounting tensions between Washington and Beijing, with relations already badly strained over US arms sales to Taiwan, Google`s threat to leave China, and a host of trade and currency disputes.
Obama was roundly criticised at home for avoiding a meeting with the Dalai Lama ahead of the US leader`s maiden trip to China in November.
Illustrating the divide over Tibet, Zhu blasted the monk as a "separatist" and "troublemaker" bent on inciting world hatred of China over its control of his mountainous homeland.
The Dalai Lama rejects such charges, saying he seeks only greater autonomy for Tibet under Chinese rule. He has warned Tibetan culture is in danger of being extinguished.
Zhu indicated the secretive talks between China and the Dalai Lama`s envoys -- the ninth round since the dialogue began in 2002 -- made no progress.
"As in previous rounds of negotiations, the positions of the two sides are sharply divided," said Zhu of the Communist Party`s United Front Work Department.
Zhu said the Tibetan side stuck to a memorandum it submitted during the last round in November 2008 that insisted their autonomy demands were in line with China`s constitution, but slammed the document as an "independence" ploy.
He said the talks could not move forward if the Dalai Lama "continues to devote himself to anti-China propaganda and sabotage on the international stage."
The Tibetan envoys, who flew to China on January 25, held meetings with Chinese officials first in the central province of Hunan and then in Beijing at the weekend, the Dalai Lama`s senior secretary Chhime Chhoekyapa told AFP.
The Dalai Lama, 75, fled his homeland after a failed uprising in 1959 against Chinese rule. That came nine years after Chinese troops were sent to take control of the region.
Since the 2008 round of talks, China has maintained a tough crackdown in Tibet launched following a wave of anti-Chinese unrest that erupted in March of that year and which Beijing blamed on the Dalai Lama.
Several people have reportedly been executed for their roles in the violence, and earlier this month China named a military veteran, Padma Choling, as Tibet`s new governor.
Zhu said another round of talks "depends on the Dalai Lama."